I have saved sparkly Christmas ornaments that our children glued for us in Sunday School, ages ago really. They hang on our Balsam fir, and when I spot them, I smile, carried back in time. I can resurrect their bright faces, Christmas creations in hand, so happy to be retrieved from class, heading home for lunch and rest time; worn out from a morning with friends and glue and noise.
I do not enjoy crafting in the least. Coloring? Yes. Sketching? Absolutely. But popsicle sticks and glue and glitter for miles? I just can’t.
What I lacked in crafting, I like to imagine I made up for in reading. My goodness, did we read. From the time our oldest was a newborn, we read stories together, which I continued to do with all of our babies. We devoured books after breakfast and throughout the day. Bible stories, adventure stories, picture books and fairy tales. The local library was our treasured friend.
Confession number two: I do not garden. The beauty of cut flowers: tulips, hydrangeas, and lilacs especially, arranged in a vase on our dinner table, is delightful. I am also quite attached to the only house plant I have ever managed to keep alive: my Philodendron whom I affectionately call Phil. He cleans the air, and requests only happy sunlight and a touch of water. But gardening? No. This is funny, because I do love being outdoors. Walking is one of my favorite activities, and I feel most alive while taking in the beauty of the cold air, maple trees, mountain views, and bright flowers. I just do not desire to plant them myself.
So I ventured daily upon long walks with our little ones: mornings and late afternoons. I would point towards the stately trees and fluffy Cumulus clouds, the Roseate spoonbills and Robins, and all of the fat squirrels gathering nuts. I avoided most baby talk, speaking clear descriptions to my babies, filling their imaginations and minds with God’s creation. They would soon speak these words back to me.
I can still smell their baby shampoo, brushing my face as I kissed their soft hair, scooping them up and holding them high as they giggled and hugged my neck.
Dinnertime was followed by baths, baby-damp hair combed back, pajamas snug. While I cleaned up toys, and quieted the kitchen for the night, my husband played with our little ones: blocks and chunky Legos and tossing a soft ball. Daddy-games so fun and different from the hours spent with me.
I now feel like Mary, treasuring up all of these things and pondering them in my heart.
I was a bit stunned, recently, to find an old piece of writing of mine, composed when our children were ages eight and under. It snapped me back to those former days, days which I have already begun to sugarcoat.
During this time period someone was awake most every night, with a bad dream, or an upset tummy, or an earache, or thirsty, or lonely, or just wanting to sleep in our bed. As I read my own words, I remembered how my husband and I grew accustomed to a small face in our dark bedroom, stirring us from deep sleep. It got to the point that I would sit up, eyes closed, while a little body would hop up and crawl in between us. I would thump back down, eyes still shut, and wait for little knees to snuggle against my back, warming me.
What I am tempted to say is: how sweet those times were, and what I wouldn’t give to go back. Which carries a measure of truth. But my own voice, on that old scrap of paper, jolted me into remembering the entire narrative: the fatigue, the sleep deprivation, the trips to the pediatrician, my hard-won patience, in addition to the beauty of loving and raising these four little people with fierce devotion.
There was not time to process much during those tender days; I was about the business and busyness of raising children. I wrote for ten minutes here and five minutes there, sometimes scratching a sentence on an old bill envelope that I had yet to throw away. And then, mid-thought, one of the children would need me, and from the very depths of my heart, I felt such love, awakening, and total surrender to this magical and precious gift of motherhood, that it was my joy to lay the paper down.
A few people tilted their heads over the years, asking if I regretted not using my writing degree; choosing instead to stay home and raise our children? Does it not feel a bit wasted?
Oh, I am using that degree, I told one. I am writing books. Four of them, actually. It took her a moment, but she nodded, following my gaze to the breezy backyard, where our three sons and daughter were playing.
In my lack, God was there. I could not craft, nor garden, and we were young and as poor as church mice. We never purchased a fancy baby nursery, with all of the things, and it took awhile before we purchased our first house. But we had each other, and I was entrusted, by my husband, with the gift of time with our babies. There is no replacement for that. Time that leant itself to Bible reading and early memorization, good books, sweaty outdoor play, games, and conversations for the ages. Our children are now our very best friends.
So as not to sugarcoat, we faced financial pressures and stresses stemming from one income. My husband and I bickered at times, petty disagreements. We never were, nor are, a perfect family. There were seasons when we had only one old car, which proved tricky and inconvenient. As an introverted mother, I occasionally felt stretched thin with so much outgoing conversation and constant interaction. But God always provided, gifting me with a few good friends, a husband who could break the day’s monotony with humor, many good books read in snippets here and there, and of course his Word.
I am rounding the corner, nearing the end of my stay-at-home-mothering years. Looking back, I can now see that as much as I was raising our children, God was raising me. So enjoy your children to the hilt, knowing that they are a true blessing from the Lord (Psalm 127:3). Those little people are God’s will for you because he has given them to you, and only for a short time.
Recognize, too, the wideness of God in this: he fashioned each of us with preferences and abilities, shortcomings and dislikes. No two people are created by his design to be exactly alike. You are uniquely positioned to raise up your children, and no, you will not be perfect. Keep in mind, on those long days, or sick days, or lonely days, that the Lord has called you to this tender love and sacrifice. It is a hard and holy work. Parenting well takes courage; a labor of love flush with future rewards (Proverbs 22:6).